When my three kids were younger, I felt like a watching-machine. It was as if I had three GPS chips that constantly transmitted the coordinates of each kid. I knew, 24/7, the precise location of each child. In crib. In babysitter’s car seat. In daycare center. At field trip to the zoo – probably in Monkey House.
Watching my kids was a critical component of motherhood. In order to keep each kid safe — out of an open pool, sewer, toilet, or kidnapper’s hands — I needed to know where each one was.
The kids had no idea I was so focused on their physical well-being, that I was watching them around the clock. My husband was also fairly oblivious. And I was utterly exhausted. I found I could only rest when all three were sound asleep in their beds (or in my bed, as was frequently the case.)
But my kids all made it to double digit birthdays safely. I wouldn’t mother young kids any differently if I could do it over. If you handed me a newborn tomorrow, I’d hook up another virtual GPS. However, I did think my watching days were long gone.
Now that my kids are 16, 14 and 11, I have entered a new watching phase. As in, “If Mom doesn’t see it, it didn’t really happen.”
We are on vacation, a few days of skiing followed by a few days in the desert. You might think this would be relaxing and invigorating. Not so much. Because every waking hour is filled with some version of “Mom, watch this!”
My 11-year-old daughter likes to hot dog on her skis. So she asks (okay, demands) me to stop halfway down the slope, and watch her all the way to the bottom. When I get to her, she asks “Did you see ALL FIVE jumps?” and gets really pissed if my answer is any version of no.
Later at the motel, in the outdoor pool heated to 86 degrees, she asks me to interrupt my laps to watch her underwater gymnastics routine. It’s not easy, or particularly satisfying, to watch underwater cartwheels. Back in the motel room, it is necessary to witness her round-offs and handsprings onto my king bed.
Her older siblings are not much better.
The 14-year-old likes me to watch her shop. “Please Mom. I want you to see how it looks.” And of course, she likes to watch me pay.
My 16-year-old son chastizes me if I talk to other moms during his basketball games. I have seen over 500 games since he turned seven and started playing competitively. You’d think it might be okay to look away occassionally. But no. “Watch me, Mom!” he sometimes whispers under his breath so his teammates cannot hear.
This is a new kind of exhausting.
My parents never watched me do anything. They had four children born in an eight year span. Their time was taken up with building careers, throwing cocktail parties, shopping for groceries and cooking meals. They never came to a school play, soccer game, or debate competition.
I’m still not sure whether this benign neglect was abusive, emotionally freeing, or both. Maybe my kids are spoiled. Maybe I am too indulgent. But it sure feels good to be needed, even for something as passive as simply watching my kids, at least for a few more years. Although I’m starting to wonder when this current Watch Me phase will end.
My 80-year-old father-in-law, who joins us on ski vacations and still cuts an impressive mogul, recently waited for me at the bottom of one of his black diamond runs.
“Did you watch me?” he asked eagerly.